In a post EU referendum world, as we face one of the most serious constitutional crises the UK has ever faced, the product of a self-inflicted act of vandalism, it is dispiriting to say the least to see the leaders on both sides of the referendum debate - Johnson, Farage, Gove, Corbyn - seemingly put themselves and their own career interests first. But just as we thought our faith in our political class could not be damaged any further, we saw the unedifying performance last week of Tony Blair and his supporters responding to Chilcot in the only way they know how: with message management and spin.
Look out in the coming days and weeks for what that message is: Prime Ministers must make 'difficult decisions', that the rest of us cannot understand, that they are beset with pressures that give them insights into decisions that are beyond the rest of us, and on which they bring to bear their judgement and faith. Alastair Campbell, Ben Bradshaw, Charles Falconer, and many other Blairites have taken to the airwaves to defend Mr Blair on this front. Mr Blair himself still maintained that this 'difficult decision' was the correct one, despite the carnage in the Middle East that has resulted from it, and maintains that he made this decision based on his supposedly skilled political judgement and good faith.
But let us think about what exactly this means. If political leaders are to claim that they are confronted with decisions that are difficult, pressurised to the extent that they are often matters of life and death, then fine. We can accept that, and indeed, most of us welcome that it is they that have to take the decisions and not us - a crucial trade off in representative democracy. However, the flip side of this is that if we elect and entrust our political leaders to make these decisions on our behalf, and provide them with good remuneration and prestige in doing so, then they have to commit themselves 100 per cent to getting those decisions right. On this front, as Chilcot shows, Mr Blair got it so badly wrong that were he in any other industry other than public office, he would be now facing charges of criminal negligence.
Part of the exchange of representative democracy is that our leaders are asked to make decisions that best suit the majority of the population who have elected them. In this, a Prime Minister must ensure that he or she is carrying out to the best of their abilities the will of the electorate, balanced by their own insights into what best serves that same electorate.
Endowed with such grand responsibilities, they must ensure that in every decision they make - especially so in the most consequential of decisions - that they have examined in as full and as objective a manner as possible all of the possible contributing factors to and potential outcomes of that decision. However, as we now know, in July 2002, eight months before the invasion of Iraq, Mr Blair wrote to President Bush and told him 'I will be with you, whatever'.
That is to say, long before the evidence had been fully examined, long before the UN weapons inspectors had filed their report on the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), long before Mr Blair had discussed it with his Cabinet, long before the UN had discussed the collective international position on Iraq, and long before Mr Blair had taken the issue to the rest of the elected representatives of the UK in the House of Commons, he had already made his decision that he would follow the United States into war with Iraq. The consequences of this cannot be overstated: this meant that every piece of intelligence that came before Mr Blair, every argument for or against the invasion of Iraq, every protest or plea not to invade, every cry to deal with terrorism post 9/11, would be made to fit a decision Mr Blair had already taken.
Even earlier, in December of 2001, Mr Blair had discussed the idea of regime change in Iraq with President Bush, as Chilcot also revealed yesterday. That is, long before even the drumbeat of war in Iraq had begun, long before the entire narrative around WMDs in Iraq had developed, long before dossiers claiming that Saddam was a threat to the West and could attack in 45 minutes, Mr Blair was already thinking of regime change, whether Saddam was in reality a threat or not.
Taken together, these are the two central decisions that Mr Blair took that led us to the war in Iraq, a war that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq, and destroyed the lives of hundreds of British families who lost loved ones. However, these are not the 'difficult' decisions as defined in the Blairite message management of this week. The genuinely difficult approach to all of this would have been to sit down and examine all of these things, resisting making a decision before all of this was done, and then using one's judgement and faith informed by the evidence. Sadly, Mr Blair did not do this. Chilcot has proven that he got the decision badly, badly wrong as a result.
One thing we know for sure: to still maintain, as Mr Blair has done since, that the decision to invade was the right decision, shows his faith and judgement - much like our political class overall, post the EU referendum - are in a worse state now than they were 13 years ago.Suggest a correction